The Sound Of: Zone
The team behind Parisian label Zone — The Hacker, Alexandre Reynaud and David Rimokh — discuss the friendship and artistic ethos behind their techno and electro powerhouse, and record a mix from the imprint’s catalogue
Launched IN 2009, Zone is a label built on friendship. Michel Amato, aka The Hacker, and Alexandre Reynaud became friends at the beginning of the ‘90s, sharing a love for raves and hanging out in a local record store, Ozone, in their hometown of Grenoble in France. The pair went on to run Goodlife Records with Oxia (another Ozone regular) from 1998 to 2008.
In 2009, they met Mike Lévy, aka Gesaffelstein, who was just starting out in his career, and his best friend David Rimkoh. “We love saying that Zone is the meeting of the two young and the two old,” David says with a smile. “In 2009, I was still with Mike in Paris, and met Alex and Michel backstage in a club. We talked about music, films, drank a lot of vodka and champagne, and became friends.”
“I am quite sure that the first time I met Mike, it was at the exit of a party at the Rex Club in Paris,” Michel chips in. “I was with Vitalic and Mike came to see me. He gave me his first track on a CD and I still have it in my studio.”
Out of this meeting of the minds, Zone was born. Gesaffelstein’s ‘The Operator’ EP became the first release, and the label — now over 10 years old — is still going strong. Zone still runs much like it did in the early years, with the decisions split between Michel, Alex and David. Michel takes care of all the demos and the musical direction, while David is the one behind Zone Studio, which covers the artistic direction, creation of visuals, and content production. Alex is often called the “general manager”, taking care of many of the other label tasks. All three have always participated in the final decisions about the music they release.
As well as a home for The Hacker releases, they’ve signed artists such as Kittin, Maelstrom, Cardopusher and Jensen Interceptor. The main connection between all the music on the label is that the trio are signing records that they love. “There is one thing we want: we would like people to recognize a Zone record when it’s played; we’d like to be a bit different,” says Alex. “We also like artists with personality; we don’t want to release boring techno with no changes.”
“We have no real strategy when we sign an artist, [but] it should be music which is in the artistic direction of the label,” adds David. “We love artists who put in their music all their identity, their own energy.”
The sound that defines the label also spans different eras. “Zone could be defined like a real electro label, with Dopplereffekt as a major influence, but also old-school EBM, like DAF, Front 242, Liaisons Dangereuses, and Italian disco,” explains Michel.
There have been some key releases that have paved the way for the label’s musical direction. Take The Hacker and Gesaffelstein’s ‘Crainte’ / ‘Errance’ in 2011: with the hum of hardware and dusty industrial drums, these are timeless techno tracks that would flow effortlessly with the tougher EBM resurgence records of now. Djedjotronic’s ‘Abyssal Zone’ in 2013 was a landmark release, reminiscent of classic Detroit electro from the ‘80s, while genuine Motor City royalty, Gerald Donald (Dopplereffekt/Drexciya), joined the label in 2015 with a Der Zyklus EP — another pinnacle moment. The Hacker’s LP ‘Love/ Kraft’ in 2014 marked the label’s first full- length foray — an iconic album displaying Michel’s unique blend of EBM, electro, techno, Italo disco and electro-pop.
In recent years, discovering and signing new talent such as Hungarian artist, CT Kidobó, has also been important. His debut EP ‘Impulse & Inhibition - Part 1’ brought luscious deep house chords with an electro twist to the imprint. And re-releasing music from cult ‘80s French outfit In Aeternam Vale — their EP ‘La Chair et les Os’ is composed of four minimal synth coldwave tracks recorded from ‘86-’87 — was another key moment.
The visual direction of the label is just as significant as the music. “Music and imagery have been connected forever and may be now more than ever with the digital era,” says David. “So artwork is really super- important for us, as important as the music in a way. I am running Zone Studio, a creative studio working with graphic design, art direction, photos, 3-D, illustration and photography, so we are lucky we can mix different visual techniques and match with the music and the global art direction of the label.
“I would describe the art direction as a mix between dark and sexy ‘70s and ‘80s references, with a modern techno touch,” he explains. “The last visual done for ‘Interzone’ [a brand new compilation released on the label in July] is a perfect example: the whole animation is done with a very modern 3-D technique and the references and the feeling are still analogue and vintage.”
The video David mentions depicts a silver flag — emblazoned with the Zone logo — rising over a cloudy backdrop; it’s reminiscent of a classic action movie, with a modern twist. Michel also has a passion for conceptualising artwork, often working with famed art director and graphic designer Pierre-Jean Buission of Le 188.
Some of the trio’s fondest memories are from the Zone parties at the Social Club in Paris. “They were always huge and packed,” says David. “It’s true that the Zone parties were really huge. We’re party people!” agrees Alex.
As well The Hacker and Gesaffelstein, artists such as Djedjotronic and Dave Clarke graced Zone events before the club closed in 2016. The label continues to grow, last month dropping its first compilation album ‘Interzone’, featuring new music from the label’s long-standing artists and more recent talent, including The Hacker, Gesaffelstein, Maelstrom, Kittin, Cardopusher, Jensen Interceptor & Kris Baha, DJ Hell and Alessadro Adriani.
They have part two of CT Kidobó’s ‘Impulse & Inhibition’ EP to come, new music from Black Light Smoke, and before the end of 2021, they’ll put out a club-orientated EP from Fear-E, which includes a track made in tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall. The label bosses also reveal plans to release special edition vinyl in 2022, alongside a book focused on their artwork and photography. A label with strong foundations, Zone only continues on its upward trajectory.
Black Light Smoke ‘Lines (The Hacker Remix)’
DJ Hell ‘We Live We Die’
Skuggministeriet ‘The last shark’
The Hacker ‘Forgotten Technology’
Dopplereffekt ‘Eukaryotic Chromosomes
Trivia ‘Zombie Experimental (The Hacker Remix)’
LABOR UNIT ‘Dopplereffekt Ripoff’
Randolph & Mortimer ‘Citizens (Schwefelgelb Remix)’
Sophonic ‘Lauda (David Carretta Remix)’
PRZ ‘The Zone’
Nasdrowie ‘The Fixer’
FM o.O ‘Happy707’
The Fashion Party ‘The Neon Judgement’